Season One, Episode Three: An Unexpected Proposal

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Podcast co-host Robin Ellis makes his first appearance in this episode of Poldark, playing the noble Rev. Dr. Halse, a local judge with a bone to pick with Ross. Could it be, perhaps, that the Reverend knows what becomes of Ross as the series goes on? We’ll find out! Plus, a surprise marriage you probably were expecting.

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Transcript

Barrett Brountas: A toast to a new mine. A toast to a new heir. Two weddings. A heart stroke. And a heart-wrenching morning after. Just when we thought we’d seen it all already on this first season of Poldark, the stakes get raised even higher as Ross and Demelza tumble into bed together and maybe, just maybe, into each other’s hearts.

CLIP

Demelza: Yes, sir, but I thought…after what happened…

Ross: You thought you would no longer be my servant.

Demelza: Not from choice, sir.

Ross: Well you’re right. You can no longer be my servant.

Barrett I’m Barrett Brountas, and this is Mining Poldark, a podcast from MASTERPIECE. In this episode of the series, we also feature the first appearance of my podcast co-host, Robin Ellis, who moves from playing the original Ross Poldark in the 1970s adaptation of the series, to sitting behind the bench as Reverend Halse in this more recent Cornish adventure.

CLIP

Ross: Well I trust I shall never have the misfortune to have the leniency of the court extended to me.

Rev. Halse: Have a care, Mr. Poldark. Such remarks are not entirely outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Ross: No. Only mercy enjoys that privilege.

Barrett And, of course, this episode features one of the most notable farming sequences ever to appear on MASTERPIECE screens. I’m talking, of course, about the scything scene.

Aidan Turner: I just thought, This is ridiculous. I mean, why would it, this … You wouldn’t. There’s so much work here that the, it’s the middle of the summer, um, why ruin a good shirt?” You know, it’s, you’re gonna, it’s gonna rip or we’re gonna sweat it off. It just felt weird. You know what I mean? It just felt odd. It just wouldn’t happen so, so I took it off…

Barrett We’ll hear more from Poldark star, Aidan Turner, talking about the unexpected notoriety of his simple farming scene, later in the podcast. But first, let’s hear from Robin as we share our recap cheatsheets.

Robin: I think this a stunner of an episode. It’s about two weddings, a christening a tasty pie and a turquoise dress.

Barrett Hope infuses the reopening of a new mine and the birth of an heir. But it does not spring eternal. By summer, jealousy has curdled Francis’ general good cheer.

Robin We see master and servant breaking bread together. We see the consequences of being caught poaching in the 18th century England. We see a Ross in a turmoil.

Barrett: But when Demelza puts on a beautiful silk dress, and Ross removes, we venture into a new territory altogether.

Robin: And an outcome that is complex, but not entirely unexpected

Barrett: Let it true. Episode three is everything. And I can’t wait to talk about your experience returning to Poldark from Ross Poldark in the 1970s original series to Reverend Halse in the 2015 series. This was the debut of your character.

Robin: Yes, and frightening it was, too.

Barrett: No. Really?

Robin Very scary. Well when you come in for one day I’m seated in this very, very crowded room with about 40 extras and lots of camera people and it’s terrifying. Not only that, but the distances between the actors in this case, because Aidan was the other side of the room and I was my side of the room and I had difficulty hearing what he was saying. I could hardly see him through the dry ice. So it had its had its moments but we got through. And I think there are pictures of me taken by my wife, Meredith, afterwards with this huge smile on my face, a huge, huge relief that it was over.

Barrett: And then once once you’ve done it that initial time, probably, the fun really began.

Robin: Yes, yes. And the director did say at the end, ‘It’s really an exceptional moment to have two Ross Poldarks in the same room.’ So it was very, very sweet and Aidan said that, I don’t remember this, but apparently, I winked at him after one of his takes and that made it all alright. So it was very good and a wonderful, wonderful day in the end yes.

Barrett: Oh that’s great. Well I’m glad to hear that it went so well, because you know, onscreen it’s it’s very tense, very antagonistic.

CLIP

Rev. Halse: You take issue with the laws of this land?

Ross: I can’t help but feel that in this case justice would have best been served by clemency.

Rev. Halse Happily for justice, this court is better able to interpret the law than you.

Ross: Well then the law is savage and you interpret it without charity! The book from which you preach says that man shall not live by bread alone. These days you’re asking him to live without even that!

Rev. Halse: Step down, Mr. Poldark, or we’ll have you committed for contempt of court.

Ross:  I can assure you, such a committal would be an entirely accurate reading of my thoughts!

Barrett I feel like Ross isn’t getting a fair shake but at the same time, you know, he probably should have tempered his criticism and not made an enemy. What do you think?

Robin: Yeah, absolutely. I mean his whole attitude is completely wrong. You know, he often does this, he lets his, I don’t know, better feelings get the better of him and misjudges the situation. And you know it’s very strict 18th century societal rules, they have these rules they live by, and if you break the rules or threaten them, the consequences are dire, as indeed poor Jim found out.

Barrett: And what was that like for you, being on the other side of that scenario? After playing Ross and understanding why he behaves the way he does, then here you are, his antagonist in this series. What’s that like?

Robin: Well the bottom line, Barrett, to be honest with you is that I’m an actor playing a part, and in the end it’s what happens on that day at that time in front of the cameras and in front of everybody, you don’t really think of the the overall circumstances. But I mean, there was nothing but pleasure in the overall circumstances, the fact that after 40 years they’d asked me back and then given me this juicy role. The sort of rather ironic thing in my part, the first Poldark, all the way through all the scenes that I have will most of the scenes I have in the series trying to get the new Poldark hanged, basically. So it has its sort of subplot as it were which was very entertaining and very nice and I feel very lucky, you know Poldark still lives for me all these years afterwards. It’s a joy, really.

Barrett: Oh, that’s great. Well I’m so glad. I mean I’m not happy for Ross that this isn’t the last we see of Reverend Halse, but I’m happy for us viewers. So more of the Reverend to come. So what were some of the other moments that in the episode that really grabbed you that you want to get into?

Robin: Barrett, there were so many of them really the mine opening was full of interest and joy as well. But you did see the workings of the mine and I have to say they all look very comfortable down there and well lit, you know, while they were talking about whether it was going to be iron or copper that they were going to find copper they’re having these rather calm comfortable conversations. I tell you, I’ve been down one of those mines. I went down 200 feet, they went down 2,000 feet, the miners at that time. And it was very, very hot even at 200, and I could not see a thing in front of me. And there are very good scenes and actually it’s rather good that they have them, because it’s nice for one of the major themes in the whole series, mining, basically, to be understood better by the people, by the viewers, I think, you know, if they understand it better they’ll enjoy it better. And those scenes were really well done and really well really well presented. There was one movement at the end when you saw the miners really working hard, including Ross, and the cut was the George Warleggan, I don’t know whether you remember this, but there was an absolute cut from that, the hard work on the sweaty mine, to George sitting in his counting house counting out his money.Counting his money! And there it was in a flash, the difference between the two of them. Fascinating stuff.

Barrett: I think going down into the mine and those scenes you’re talking about there is something that they’re serving us, they’re really showing us a couple of things about Ross. One: that he is committed. He’s doing it along with his men and he wants to make it safer for them.

CLIP

Ross: Two shafts have been sunk, but it’s hard going.

Henshawe: We struck ironstone almost at once.

Ross We may yet require gunpowder.

Choake: More expensive.

Henshawe: Aye, but don’t be discouraged. Where there’s ironstone, there’s often copper.

Barrett: He wants it to be safer for them and he’s paying them you know a living wage versus what’s going on over at Wheal Grambler which the other Poldarks are running. So we’re really learning about his character and  some of the qualities I really like about him when we see him mining.

Robin: I agree totally, and it’s very well done, it’s very lightly done.

Barrett: Yeah.

Robin: It’s not not heavily done. It does just as you say, point out his qualities, his beliefs, his quite natural feeling for other people.

Barrett: Let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsors…

Barrett: Now did you want to talk a little bit about the dancing scene at Jim and Jinny’s wedding, because that’s something that I can’t wait to get into?

Robin: I’d love to hear what you think about it. I would just say that to me it did immediately remind me of the other dancing scene in previous episode.

Barrett: Yes! Me too.

Robin: Well, I mean there was Ross dancing with Elizabeth in the previous episode and now gradually he’s enticed by Demelza into the circle and he finds himself enjoying it, and smiling in spite of himself. And not only that, when they’re on the way home, before the news breaks that you know, Elizabeth has had her baby, I think he’s riding in and Demelza is sort of jumping up and down and just remembering the joyfulness of it all ,and he rides his horse round the dog there’s a little…

Barrett: Oh my god, I didn’t even notice that, I’m so glad you pointed that out! That tells me really what it is that Demelza brings out in him. That more playful side and just that because when you have this sort of slow-motion dancing scene at the wedding, it’s such a contrast as you said to the dance with Elizabeth last episode, because this is wild and it’s sweaty and it’s out in nature. Right?

Robin Absolutely.

Barrett And the other one is refined, and suppressed. And it’s contained inside the assembly room. Now I feel like both of them have that sort of like charged-like, really charged atmosphere but in such different ways.

Robin Very much so.

Barrett And isn’t that the the the problem for Ross?

Robin: I mean dance should be a release and in both cases it’s not entirely developed, as it were. Nevertheless, it does tell that story and you’re right, and it’s it’s very charming in the context of the country people and his relationship with the country people. How actually he’s he’s persuaded and willing to be drawn into that circle rather than just be an observer. And that’s nice. That’s very nice, and very revealing about him, I think.

Barrett: Rumors have begun to travel across Cornwall even faster than Ross can gallop across the cliffs, right? Tongues tongues be a wagging, because Ross, an aristocrat, has been fraternizing with what these charming party goers at the christening refer to as vulgars.

CLIP

Cary: In these dire economic times…

Ross Which might be less dire were they not in the hands of those whose only purpose is to make a profit.

Cary: What other purpose is there?

Ross Perhaps you should ask those who exist on starvation wages.

Cary Perhaps if you fraternized less with the lower orders, you’d feel their woes less keenly.

Mrs. Chynoweth One does feel that the gentry and the vulgars should keep to themselves. Otherwise it gets so confusing.

Barrett: So what begins to emerge here, and this is a theme I think we’re all rooting for throughout the season, all the seasons, is that Ross is becoming sort of a champion of the poor, and he’s speaking truth to power despite the consequences. What do you think about this Ross that we have in the courtroom, or just putting his social class aside, and you know, working beside his men, dancing with Demelza and the people of this community?

Robin: He can’t help himself. I mean that is deeply in his character. Of course he’s been to America and he’s fought in a war. And he’s gone through that experience, which none of the people that he’s supposed to be a part of the class of which he’s supposed to be a part have done. So he is a different animal, anyway. But it comes quite naturally to him and it’s very impressive. But I just want to say, I have not one favorite scene, but I have a sequence of favorite scenes, which is the gradual domestic scenes with the two of them, which begins with, I think Demelza has decided that the stomach is the way to a man’s heart, basically. She presents him with this fantastic pie, and it is a wonderful scene where she puts the pie down in front of him, as she has done for a while, and he tastes the pie a lovely pregnant pause, and he says, very obliquely, ‘Is Prudie, is she getting better?’ and basically saying, ‘You continue cooking and don’t allow Prudie into the kitchen,’ and the joy on Demelza’s face is so dear, and that’s really at the start of a sequence of scenes that eventually leads to the inevitable at the end of the episode, but it builds through the episode, and it’s lovely. It’s very, very enjoyable and very unusual, to see these master and servant sitting eventually at the same table initially, and then actually, when he comes back from the trial, he’s sitting there and he’s having a conversation with his servant about how how wretched he feels about about you know how he behaved in court.

Barrett: Yup.

Robin: It’s delightful.

Barrett: Yeah, he really comes to sort of open himself up to her and in a way, already just rely on her as as a sounding board, right?

Robin: He does, he does, absolutely right, that’s exactly right, yeah.

Barrett: And I love to Demelza’s face, just, it’s so transparent, you see her working on that pie, and really working hard on it and then yeah, you just see her emotions completely wash over her face. How worried she is if he’s going to like it or not, and how just purely delighted and relieved she is that he really enjoyed it. And he didn’t even have to, he didn’t say it, like you said, he gave his approval in such a Ross way.

Robin: Yeah, well I think there’s a sort of unspoken teasing on both parts going on. You know, sort of undercurrent of…because she, she teases him by by anticipating his every need, as it were.

CLIP

Ross: Demelza, do we have any of that…?

Demelza: Brandy, sir? Last of that hid in th’ cupboard, from France?

Ross Exactly so.

Demelza Anythin’ else?

Ross Yes. If you could somehow avoid the inference that I’m utterly predictable?

Demelza: ‘Es, sur. I’ll try, sur.

Robin: It’s just a building trust in each other, and almost a need for each other. Something new for him.

Barrett: Yes, and just a sort of a really natural and comfortable slide into domesticity.

Robin: Yes, that’s right.

Barrett: And more more toward being equals, which is, yeah, completely unusual, in that time you don’t see him acting that way with Prudie I’ll tell you what.

Robin: No you don’t, you don’t. The dress however is the is the catalyst for some other level of communication, I think.

Barrett Oh yeah.

Robin And a brilliant device really. They way they get together in this version is very, very subtle. It’s very slow. And she she does make moves. She’s quite open about how she she can’t live without him, basically she can’t go. She’s in love with him and she is so she is a little forward but it’s not in such a brazen way as she is in our version, and it was a revelation.

Barrett: Right in fact. When she blows out that candle. He comes home,h e’s talking to her. Gazing into the fire. She’s trying to…she’s caught in the dress and she’s trying to just extricate herself from that situation before he finds out she’s in the dress. He finally sees her, he’s very upset that she’s in the dress. And then he says, ‘Take it off, or I’m going to send you home to your father,’ and that triggers tears because she doesn’t want to leave, because she loves him. And then he feels as though he’s been too harsh, he feels terrible about it. So he goes to console her then just overwhelmed with desire suddenly brushing her tear away, he kisses her. But then he realizes that he shouldn’t, and he leaves her.

CLIP

Demelza: What is it? What have I done?

Ross: I didn’t take you from your father for this.

Demelza: What do it matter what ye took me for?

Ross: Go to bed.

Demelza: Sir.

Ross: Go to bed now.

Barrett She sort of crouches on the floor upset as can be and then she gets up and blows out that candle. And I feel like that candle, blowing that out wasn’t resignation. I think she made a decision and she was blowing that out and I feel like my former English major self says that she was like snuffing her innocence, in a way she’s going to go through that door and for us go for what she wants because she loves him.

Robin That’s very nice.

Barrett: So yeah, I think it’s really authentic on her part.

Robin: Well I completely agree with you. But I think, you know, I had to watch the episode a couple of times. I think the richness of the episode does pay a re-viewing because it’s so dense and things like the blowing out of the candle. I also thought about that. I thought, well what does that mean, blowing out the candle, does that mean she’s giving up? And then I looked at her, and I thought, no it’s not that at all. And of course what happens afterwards confirms that. But yes, she’s made her resolute in fact.

Barrett: Yes, it’s perfect.

Robin It’s helped her make a decision, basically, and helped him too, in the end. Yeah, absolutely. I give you A+ for that.

Barrett: I thank you. We agree. And then onto probably my favorite scene in Poldark. It’s just great stuff. I’m going to just stop myself I don’t want to. I don’t want to go on I can’t just keep talking about that scene.

Robin: Why?

Barrett: Because I’m going to start blushing.

 

CLIP

Ross: You know what people say of us?

Demelza: Yea.

Ross: If we behave like this, it will be true.

Demelza: Then let it be true.

Robin: I mean it’s not the end of things, is it?

Barrett: No, it certainly isn’t. She does see him scything in the field. She’s sort of watching there.

Robin: She does, let me just ask you about that because the second time I saw it, I looked at her look at him and was there anything of, ‘I’ve done it,’ in that look? ‘Got him,’ or was it just purely as an appreciation?

Barrett: Maybe, or just an appreciation, I’m seeing this in the light of day?

Robin: Maybe an appreciation, yes.

Barrett: Let’s talk about just the crushing morning after, when Elizabeth rides up to the house and Demelza comes in with her beautiful cornflowers. Isn’t that just so sad for everybody involved?

Robin: Yeah. Very low key, and a lot of things unsaid which I appreciated. And again, the scene can take a couple of looks. You know, it’s very subtle stuff. And Elizabeth gets the message. Everybody’s getting the message but not saying very much, if you know what I mean, apart from the flowers. It’s good stuff.

Barrett: It is and it’s just I feel sad for all of them. I do.

Robin: Yeah. Yeah.

Barrett: And then Demelza consults the sea, and Ross sharpens his scythe. And then he chases her down the road to Sawle and has this wonderful scene with her where he is convincing her to come back.

Robin: He insists on the contract.

CLIP

Ross I engaged you for two years. So what do you mean by running away?

Demelza Sir, I…

Ross Haven’t you been well-treated? Aren’t you grown used to the house? And your tasks? And my moods?

Demelza Yes, sir.

Ross Do you not give me what I want before I even ask?

Demelza Yes, sir but I thought after what happened…

Barrett: Do you think that he went out there with the intention to ask her to marry him? Or do you think that that’s sort of like occurred to him when she said, ‘I can’t be your servant anymore and it’s not what I desire.’

Robin: Well I think there’s a lot in this episode where people don’t actually set out to do anything. They’ve got lots of things in their minds and as things turn out, it happens, as it were. And it seems quite natural somehow, and I think that’s one of those moments. It just, it just occurred, like in fact the first kiss just occurred, I feel. And what happened was right. I mean, however difficult is it going to be for him, that will in the end be the right thing for him to have chosen and somehow his instinct rose above everything else at that moment, I think, and this sort of happened quite a lot in this episode, I think.

Barrett: Yeah. And Ross’s instinct, I mean stay tuned, listeners, Ross’s instinct is not always right

Robin: It’s certainly not always right, not at all.

Barrett: Now because we’re just about out of time, hero or hater? And I wonder if every single episode until maybe someplace in season two we’re just going to be like, he’s a hero! I don’t know. What do you think?

Robin: Well he’s definitely a hero. I mean, they have a little exchange, Demelza and Ross, where he’s talking about the class he says, ‘They disgust me, my own class.’ ‘How is it you not like them?’ she says. ‘Perhaps I am,’ he says. ‘No sir, they don’t see us like you do.’ And then he actually says, ‘Sometimes I barely see what’s right in front of me,’ which is a sort of nice line about him not seeing that, you know Demelza is in love with him, basically.

Barrett: Yes.

Robin: But he does. He is a hero. I mean he immediately goes and sees Bedruggan and pleads for Jim, and he is defiant in front of the women of his class. He’s definitely a hero.

Barrett: I think he mines heroically. I think he scythes heroically. I think he unlaces a dress heroically. I think that he advocates for Jim Carter, heroically, although flawed, but I think that he is 100 percent, hero of the episode. And that he is compelled to do what he thinks is the right thing, which is to marry Demelza. Well thank you so much I can’t wait to talk with you again.

Robin: He keeps the hero status in this episode

Barrett Well thank you so much, I can’t wait to talk with you again.

Robin: Me too. Barrett. Been a pleasure.

Barrett: Poldark star Aidan Turner doesn’t wear the ‘sex symbol’ moniker lightly, and it’s something he struggled with after the viral explosion of this third episode of the series back in 2015. Here, he speaks with my MASTERPIECE colleague Jace Lacob, host of our MASTERPIECE Studio podcast, about how the shirtless scything scene was actually…his idea.

Jace: There’s been a lot of press about your discomfort about being a sex symbol, which you described as, “A little awkward,” in an interview with The Independent. Uh, were you concerned that the sighting scene last season might eclipse everything else that the show has to offer?

Aidan: No. No, I never did. I mean, I think the scene was really well shot. You know, it was, and it was my idea. I mean, we were in the field shooting, shooting this scene and we were rehearsing. And I had the shirt on, and the, I just said, ‘This is ridiculous. I mean, why would it, this … You wouldn’t. There’s so much work here that the, it’s the middle of the summer, um, why ruin a good shirt.’ You know, it’s, you’re gonna, it’s gonna rip or we’re gonna sweat it off. It just felt weird. You know what I mean? It just felt odd. It just wouldn’t happen so, so I took it off and, uh …

Jace: He probably only owned two.

Aidan: Well, this is it, too. You know? It just wouldn’t have made any sense. It would have been ridiculous, but, uh, you know, I didn’t know the, brouhaha that was gonna, that was gonna happen. Um, but there’s so much more going on in that scene. I mean, in the background we have Elizabeth riding up to tell Ross that possibly she’s made a mistake. You know? That you are the one I love. And, and we have Judd talking about, I think it’s Jim Carter, saying you know, this, this, uh, this guy’s been gone for poaching and, and we…There’s so much happening. Uh, I’m, I’m, I guess people just focused … I was just quite surprised. I just didn’t get it. I honestly don’t get it really. I mean, over in America, there, there wasn’t the same buzz over here, really, ’cause I don’t know, maybe it happens a lot more. Maybe people, maybe people get their kit off more often, but it was, um, I just, I still don’t, and it’s bizarre. It’s bizarre that the people kind of, um, made a big deal of it. It shone the spotlight on us a bit more and, um, it was all over the tabloids. Maybe more people tuned in or something, but for me there’s, there’s no, um, it just, it completely makes sense. I think it still holds it’s, it’s integrity, integrity and its merit and, um, there’s nothing I’d really change about it. You know? And it was one take as well, which I’m quite proud of. We had two cameras and one take, so that was kind of … We just had one crack of the whip on that one. But, uh, yeah.

Ross: So you got your one take.

Aidan: Got my one take.

Jace You got your one take.

Aidan Got my one take. One take Turner. Ha!

Barrett That was Poldark star Aidan turner, talking about scything with MASTERPIECE Studio host, Jace Lacob. You can hear the rest of that interview, and listen to the rest of our MASTERPIECE Studio conversations, including with many of the core Poldark cast — on our website, pbs.org/masterpiece or on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Radio Public or wherever else you listen to podcasts.

And you can join us in our rewatching adventure here on Mining Poldark by watching the entire series on PBS Passport — a new member benefit from your local PBS station. You can watch select MASTERPIECE titles like Poldark, Downton Abbey or Victoria as part of the Passport experience. To learn more, visit pbs.org/getpassport.

You can also follow along with us on the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel, available as an add service to your Amazon Prime membership.

Mining Poldark is hosted by me, Barrett Brountas, with co-host Robin Ellis. We’re produced by Nick Andersen, with help from Robyn Bissette. Meredith Wheeler is our field producer. Tina Tobey-Mack is our sound designer. Susanne Simpson is our executive producer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.

Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking Cruises, Raymond James and The MASTERPIECE Trust.

Poldark is a Mammoth Screen production for BBC, co-produced with MASTERPIECE.

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